Monday, August 13, 2012

CED TVC2012 Demo Company WaterplayUSA Sees Big Business in Niche Online Booking Markets

Ahead of the CED Tech Venture Conference 2012, we sat down with a few of the executives that will be presenting as Demo Companies to find out what makes them tick…

Walt and Will Smith, brothers and co-founders, WaterplayUSA
Today's interview is with Will Smith, co-founder of WaterplayUSA. Will chatted with Ann Revell-Pechar to discuss the large market for online travel/activity booking. WaterplayUSA, which was recently featured on TechCrunch, is also a Demo Company at the CED Tech Venture Conference 2012 and the founding team (two brothers!) is looking ahead to big milestones. 

Ann: Will, you are launching what many of us would categorize as a dream business in dream industry in a dream location – launching at North Carolina's premiere technology conference for entrepreneurs.

Will: You’re right. Introducing WaterplayUSA at the CED Tech Venture Conference is ideal, because we get to meet so many people that can help us get where we need to go – and who will likely use our service, too. We’re a small company with goals as big as changing the way people plan and book travel, so there’s a big world to meet.

WaterplayUSA is the first nationwide watersports booking engine, and we have created the largest directory of available water sports activities in the nation. It’s like a one-stop source to book your watersports and travel activities, like fishing charters, boat rentals, surf lessons, etc. We already have 200 activities that you can book online, and we haven’t even begun to market yet.

Ann: How did you get started on this idea?

Will: Four years ago, my brother Walt and I were out on our boat. We had been self-employed most of our adult working careers and were ready to start a new venture. As we looked around, well… everyone was in a boat, except the people on shore that wanted to be on the water. So, we hatched the watersports directory idea while on the water.

We did a lot of research and found that there was a gap between watersports providers and their customers. It’s then that we started building what is now the Nation’s largest water sports directory, with some friends-and-family investment. That was September 2009. In June of this year, we launched the booking engine that is really the core of our offerings and business model. 

Now we are looking for a $500,000 investment so we can launch an enhanced version of WaterplayUSA at the end of 2012.

Ann: In the 1990s there was exponential growth in online travel, with another boom when social media took hold in the past decade. Why is now a good time for a watersports booking engine?

Will:  Travel and tourism has changed. I just read a figure published by the US Travel Association saying 79% of Americans use the Internet to plan and book their travel (flights and hotels)– but only 25% of the activities they do once they get there are booked online. Most of the service providers in the watersports industry are small businesses and don’t have the ability or budgets to attract much online attention. WaterplayUSA increases their exposure to traveling consumers, and facilitates the sale online.  We designed our booking engine to work similar to the way consumers currently book their flights and hotels.  

Ann: What’s the market like?

Will: It’s big business. In the US alone, travel activities are a $27 billion industry; watersports is a $5 billion industry. If only 25% of those activities are booked online now (and, by the way, sending an email counts as booking online), we have a very large market available to tap.

And just wait until we expand to the rest of the world!

Ann: Ok, so, down to my point about the dream location…

Will: We’re proudly based in Wilmington, NC. Of course we love the beach and the way the entire region fits into a family-centric lifestyle. We have ready-access to great talent – and a lot of water sports businesses and customers, which allows us to stay on top of changes in the water sports and travel industry. We get super insights from the UNC-Wilmington Entrepreneurship Center and CED, which is an extremely supportive community.

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